Cameron Norrie could do little to cope with an inspired opponent, while the world No.5 was one of the two seeds to be ousted, along with Danil Medvedev.
B. Coric (15, seeded 13th) d. C. Norrie (UK, 45) 6-2 6-2
Cameron Norrie played his fourth match in four days, and was overwhelmed by the Croatian Borna Coric, who proved himself a terrible match up for the Brit, full-out nullifying all the best features of his game, and eliminating him in 57 minutes.
Coric is one of the best movers and returners on tour, and has one of the most consistent backhands on tour, even when hit on the rise, which means that he didn’t particularly suffer against the slice curve of Norrie’s lefty serve from the ad court, nor the high bounce of his forehand. Moreover, his athleticism allowed him not to be worn out by long rallies, instead thriving in them, easily countering a flat backhand devoided of power by a cool climate.
The first game was a good indication of what was about to pass. Norrie suffered immediately, going 0-30 and conceding a break point with a double fault, saved with an ace to the T, before a backhand unforced and another double fault gave way to the No.15 in the world.
Norrie was clearly aware of being far from his best, for he kept encouraging himself after every point he scored, but the tide didn’t change. A slice serve saved the third break point, but after a delicious counter-break Coric soared again with a huge inside-in forehand, a stroke he has unbelievably improved with star coach Riccardo Piatti. Much of the same followed, with the Croat sending Norrie scuttering around the baseline, and torturing him with the occasional drop shot, acing out the set in 28 minutes.
The second half of the match was akin to a copy&paste minutes- and score-wise, although the first break this time happened in the third set, with a nice backhand series with a half volley icing. Another came in the fifth game, when Norrie, by now under the shower, missed a forehand down the line with his opponent miles away. A backhand approach into the net gave Coric three match points, and he finished with an inside-out winner without conceding even a shred of a break point.
Now he will meet either Sousa or (more likely) Federer, a man he’s beaten twice last year (in Halle and in Shanghai), in a match that might be very captivating, given the outstanding form displayed by the Croat with the skewed cap in these first few days in the Eternal City.
M. Berrettini (Ita, 33, WC) d. A. Zverev (Ger, 5, seeded 4th) 7-5 7-5
Zverev’s spiral-shaped descent into his personal Hades continued with a defeat against surging Matteo Berrettini, a Roman playing in Rome, in an hour and 48 minutes.
Sascha has been quite open about his off-court struggles, involving a lawsuit, the end of a relationship, and above all his father’s hospitalization (Alexander Sr. is also the coach of both Zverev Brothers), which have hindered his performances and now threaten to sink his ranking, as he failed to defend most of the 2630 points he had stored in 2018 between Miami, Monte-Carlo, Munich, Madrid, and Rome, where he defended the unlucky final of last year, when he wasn’t stopped by the rain while up a break in the decider against Nadal, failing to win a single game after the re-start.
Fate has a good sense of irony, and booked him a debut against a make believe wildcard (Berrettini is a top 30 player, he only needed a wildcard because his ranking wasn’t high enough at the time of the cut-off), who was also playing in his hometown, and who has been surging for the past few weeks, winning in Budapest and finishing as a runner-up in Munich, where he had to play twice in the same day, folding in the third set’s tie-break of the final against Christian Garin.
At 6ft5x95kg, Berrettini is a quintessential modern clay gunner: he has a very elaborate yet wrecking forehand, perfect for slow and high bounces, possesses a rubber-like kick serve, and, peculiarly for such a bemuscled specimen, hits some refined drop shots, suffering mainly due to an understandable clumsiness in his lateral movements, and due to a yet improving backhand.
Zverev started off very slowly, suffering on his preferred backhand side (as he did against Tsitsipas in Madrid) and struggling with his first serve, conceding a break in the second game with a couple of double faults. Berrettini, aware of his opponent’s far positioning, attempted several drop shots, with mixed results, and kept moving to the centre-left to hit his inside-out forehand, and confirmed the break for a 3-0 lead.
Zverev then started to settle in, aided by the Italian’s low percentage with his first serve (36% until that point), and earned a break point with his backhand, first by alternating a slice with with his trademark cross-court truck, and then with a passing shot down the line. Berrettini found his serve to hit an easy forehand approach. Another backhand pass off of a predictable drop shot created another opening, but Berrettini took the initiative and dared him to hit a difficult forehand. However, the situation was ripe, and a double fault followed by a forehand in the middle of the net catapulted the German back into play.
Five quick holds ensued, but then, at 5-5, Zverev managed to put three returns into play (even hitting a great backhand down the line), surging to 0-40. Berrettini scrambled, but saved them, with the second one being particularly telling, as he managed to fend off a few heavy strikes before hitting a deadly inside-in. Sascha smartly targeted his opponent’s left side again, and smashed to create a further chance, cancelled by an unreturned serve to the T. The fourth seed then read the umpteenth drop shot and won an exhilarating reactions contest at the net, but missed a slice on a short ball after having resisted on the forehand cross-court. Berrettini then survived with another winning serve and a pinpoint forehand dictation concluded at the net, to the jubilum of the crowd, more akin to that of a Davis Cup tie than to an ATP event. As fairly predictable, Zverev took the hit for the many wasted chances, and missed two forehands by a good margin, before a double fault and a deep return gave Berrettini the set after 52 minutes.
The world No.5 came into the second set with a more solid mind-frame, immediately fetching two break points behind a missed drop shot, breaking on the heels of a long forehand. However, Berrettini wasn’t going to go away, and started hitting several slices to lure his adversary into taking the initiative, causing three uncouth mistakes. A double fault concluded Zverev’s horror game, and levelled the score at 2-2.
The power serves then switched on again, in the midst of some whiny gusts, and balance reigned supreme until the tenth game, when Berrettini hit a drop shot winner to force a deuce, and then rose to a match point with a swinging forehand. Zverev was quite lucky, for his backhand smudged the line and Berrettini was forced to hit an impossible passing shot, and somehow scrapped his way to 5-5 with an ace. Berrettini held serve quickly though, putting him on the spot once more, and this time the walls came crumbling down: his approach was deflected by the tape, and the Italian could pass him easily with an inside-out missile for a 0-15 lead. Zverev scored twice to pull ahead, but Berrettini read the moment, managed to put a first serve to the T back into play, and elicited a mistake with another sleek slice. A double fault caused match point No.2, which was saved with an overhead, but a losing slice battle paved the way for a heavy Berrettini forehand down the line, finished with an easy smash. This time Zverev didn’t put his first serve in, and the ensuing forehand strike hit the tape but stayed on his side, damning him to yet another early exit.
Zverev will now re-unite with consultant coach Ivan Lendl, who struggles to work in spring Europe due to heavy pollen allergies (Rome’s Foro Italico, in particular, is filled with poplar trees), and will try to regain some serenity on his way to Paris – it’s not too late to save the season. Berrettini will keep living his homely dream, as his next opponent, be it Ramos or Schwartzman, won’t be a prohibitive one, although surely more attritional than this heavy-weights bout was.
N. Kyrgios (Aus, 36) d. D. Medvedev (Rus, 14, seeded 12th) 6-3 3-6 6-3
Tennis is becoming a sport that makes men of average height feel very self-conscious, since another Tuesday match involved 6ft5 Danil Medvedev and 6ft4 Nick Kyrgios, with the latter emerging victorious after an hour and 34 minutes.
The two are a fascinating dichotomy, with mirroring narratives: Medvedev is a changed man, who started as a little-known bad boy who threw coins at umpires, almost fought with opponents, hated conditioning and post-match treatments, and played constantly on the edge with a streaky, personal flat style, and then rose from the ashes a married man, extremely consistent, and owner of one of the best six-packs in the men’s game. Kyrgios, on the other hand, showed his face to the world by beating Nadal to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon as a 19-year-old, but then became known mostly for his ultimate bad boy persona and antics, only occasionally reaping the victories that countless pundits predicted for him.
With such premises, an entertaining match was all but certain, and the two didn’t disappoint, especially the Aussie, who opened the match with his trademark underarm serve, catching Medvedev, who was sitting far back, off guard, and led to an easy hold. The Russian’s first service game wasn’t so easy, going to a deuce sparked by a Mammoth of a backhand return by Kyrgios, but led to no break points.
When Kyrgios plays, everything moves faster, due to the shortness of the points, to the little time he takes between his serves, and above all due to the unpredictability of what he might do next, which keeps everyone, opponent and crowd alike, in a perpetual spinal tap situation – and there can’t be much tactical analysis either. However, early on the only quick games were his, as he went to deuce on Medvedev’s second service game too, luring him into a mistake with an intra-rally tweener, taking the advantage with another good backhand return, and breaking with a net exchange that involved another tweener and a lob leading to a narrowly wide backhand passing shot by Medvedev. The set continued on its journey on the same bizarre tracks, with Kyrgios holding quickly, and Medvedev toiling through deuces, as his opponent disrupted his rhythm in every possible way, until the set ended in 31 minutes with two brilliant serve&volleys by Kyrgios, who was particularly efficient with his second serve, winning 91% of points.
The second set, after a medical time-out for Medvedev’s ailing lower back, commenced in the same way, but then Medvedev found his first serve (he put only 47% into play in the first set, raised to 56% with a 100% efficiency in the second), and started to concede little room to operate to the Aussie, who faltered in the eight game, when another underarm serve backfired, bringing Medvedev forward with a chip&charge concluded with a beautiful stop volley. Kyrgios saved himself with a big serve, but was then locked on the left cross-court, and tried to escape with a chopped forehand on which Medvedev rushed like a hawk, taking another advantage at the net, and finally breaking through with a fantastic backhand return down the line that put him in charge of the rally until Kyrgios missed. The Russian then easily held, as his opponent gave the impression of not even trying to compete.
That was just a momentary loss of focus (this time, at least), since Kyrgios decided to push early, holding quickly and then winning two rare backhand rallies to get to a double break point (the second was notable in that he managed to return a first serve), breaking on the second chance after another surprising mistake on Medvedev’s stronger side. Medvedev was bamboozled by this turn of events, expecting, like everyone else, that Kyrgios would fold once the going got tough, and smashed his racket after a botched drop shot.
The fourteenth seed tried to fight back, waiting for Kyrgios’s serve to fade, and sparked a rally that brought him to a double break point in the seventh game. However, he was driven away by a second serve at 223 km/h (about 140 miles per hour), and by a drop shot&passing volley combination. That was it, and Kyrgios put some spicy sauce on the last game by serving the match out with four consecutive aces. He will now face Norwegian qualifier Casper Ruud.
Other Tuesday results included a plethora of former world No.3s: there was another major setback for Grigor Dimitrov, who could have taken a double break lead in the decider against Struff, but then lost five consecutive games to wave an early adios, an easy win for Marin Cilic against wildcard Andrea Basso, and a surprising collapse for Stan Wawrinka, who won only two games against David Goffin after having wog the opening set:
K. Khachanov (Rus, 13, seeded 11th) d. R. Bautista Agut (Spa, 20) 5-7 6-4 6-2
N. Basilashvili (Geo, 18, seeded 14th) d. L. Djere (Srb, 32) 7-5 6-4
M. Cilic (Cro, 10, seeded 9th) d. A. Basso (Ita, 416, WC) 6-1 7-5
R. Albot (Mol, 44) d. B. Paire (Fra, 46, Q) 6-3 6-2
J. Chardy (Fra, 42) d. R. Gasquet (Fra, 39) 6-1 4-6 6-3 (only the decider was played on Tuesday)
T. Fritz (USA, 52, Q) d. G. Pella (Arg, 21) 6-3 6-4
D. Goffin (Bel, 23) d. S. Wawrinka (Swi, 29) 4-6 6-0 6-2
D. Schwartzman (Arg, 24) d. Y. Nishioka (Jap, 75, Q) 6-1 6-4
J. Sousa (Por, 72) d. F. Tiafoe (USA, 34) 6-3 6-7 (3) 7-6 (4)
J.-L. Struff (Ger, 51) d. G. Dimitrov (Bul, 48) 6-4 6-7 (5) 6-3